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Black women writers, modernism, and Paris

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This article examines the lives and careers of two black women living and working in Paris between the wars to invite more scholarship on black women writers and transatlantic modernism. Jessie Fauset and Paulette Nardal have been described as midwives of the Harlem Renaissance and Negritude movements respectively, despite the fact that they were racial activists and prolific writers in a variety of genres themselves. Focusing on the tropes of dislocation, (mis)translation, and (mis)representation as they interact with the imaginary of Paris between the wars, the author sees the work of both African-American and Francophone black women writers as central to the creation of Afromodernisms and twentieth-century feminisms. Afromodernist women map interwar Paris, and, by extension, the relationship between the Americas, Europe, and Africa differently to their male colleagues, as the interaction between the black female body and the actual and imaginary spaces it negotiates are quite distinct from the male. Reading the work of Fauset, Nardal, and their contemporaries Gwendolyn Bennett, Jane Nardal, Suzanne Lacascade, Anita Thompson Dickinson and Suzanne Csaire, shows us that a black feminist modernism was emerging in discourses that circulated through Paris, Harlem, and the Antilles. This feminism constitutes a significant aspect of the veil de conscience du race that characterized the New Negro and Negritude movements. Understanding that their work and thought are more than footnotes to a patriarchal genealogy of black liberation movements helps us to appreciate more richly this perennially fascinating and influential era.

Keywords: Jessie Fauset; Nardal; black cosmopolitanism; feminisms; interwar Paris; modernism

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Colorado College.

Publication date: 2011-05-01

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  • The International Journal of Francophone Studies offers a critical preview for a new development in the understanding of 'France outside France', with a thorough insight into the network of disciplinary issues affiliated with this study. The journal complements the thriving area of scholarly interest in the French-speaking regions of the world, bringing a location of linguistic, cultural, historical and social dynamics within a single academic arena.
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